EARLIER this year, I became acting chairman of Bognor’s Number 18 Project without expecting it, after the previous elected chairman resigned.
I’ve served on the No18 Committee since its inception in 1996, watching its progress as a centre offering drop-in, information, sexual health, counselling and other vital services to young people with pride.
The Number 18 management committee is an independent charity.
We exist to manage a project which is a partnership between Arun District Council and West Sussex County Council. Arun provides the buildings (18 WaterlooSquare/75 Little High Street) and charges a peppercorn rental around £1,000 pa – we have responsibility for internal maintenance.
The agreement setting up the project stipulated a further £7,000 pa towards running costs – Arun paid this for some years but decided to end the payment as if it was grant aid and not part of the agreement.
Last year, the County Youth Service was subjected to review and major savings stipulated. Staff were forced to compete for a reduced number of jobs, a process stretching across months which created huge uncertainty and stress.
This project negotiated with County, we lost one hour a day for the information shop work, and the position re availability of staff for running drop-in cafe sessions after school is only just clarifying.
When we re-open shortly after cafe refurbishments, we will have just two sessions a week for the drop-in work, based on currently-available county resources.
Now we learn that a further review of the County Youth Service, to identify another £2m savings, has just been launched.
I have to say that my reading of it so far is it attempts a fait accompli.
We are not alone in this.
Other local centres such as at Rose Green have already had their weekly number of sessions slashed, their staff now separated from their centres and acting as a pool of youth workers not attached to any particular centres.
This is in complete reversal of a mode of operation over decades where kids knew who their youth workers were.
I have no doubt this has caused huge concern among youth workers.
The idea of a universal youth service, open to all, is being replaced with ‘targeted’ work, which as it is carried into effect will mean the virtual end of the youth club as we know it.
This is all in the name of ‘the cuts’, an area of huge political controversy.
Unfair and ill-advised cuts in youth provision, failure to honour partnership agreements, rushed consultation – the young people of our town deserve better.
And the voluntary sector is not here to pick up the pieces.
We are here to open Number 18, for the kids, at a time when we are needed more than ever. False economy leads to nothing but failure.
Acting Chair, Number 18 Project